“Chappaquiddick” provides insight on historical controversy

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AJ Forbes, Co-Editor-in-Chief

For all the history buffs out there, films that are based on prominent events in the past frequently come into the box office–often with some sense of skepticism about how accurately the situation is presented. “Chappaquiddick” shows the controversial events surrounding the drunk driving incident involving Senator Ted Kennedy (the last surviving brother of the Kennedy family at the time), which resulted in the drowning of secretary Mary Jo Kopechne in 1969.

It’s safe to say it didn’t disappoint.

Although “Chappaquiddick” starts off fairly slow, the opening scenes set the tone immediately. Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) lives in the shadow of his older brothers, John and Robert, who have obviously already made their mark in American history. This is evident in the succinct way he talks about John F. Kennedy in a TV interview that makes up the first scene. And if you can get through the first fifteen minutes, the action starts to pick up.

From that moment, most people would feel at least a little sympathy for the senator. However, that sympathy doesn’t last very long.

The audience is then introduced to Mary Jo (Kate Mara) on a beach talking to another secretary about taking a position as Ted’s campaign manager. After Ted joins them, they attend a party that is being held for members of Ted’s presidential campaign. While Ted and Mary Jo go on a drive after Ted had been drinking, the car flies off the Dike Bridge. The senator somehow is able to get out of the car, yet Mary Jo perishes inside the locked car as water rushed in.

From that point on, I felt a constant anxiety. Director John Curran made it an objective for the audience to feel what it was like to be in Ted Kennedy’s shoes while also understanding the corrupt nature of the situation. Rather than suffering the consequences of a normal citizen, there was a vigorous effort to cover-up the involuntary manslaughter case by the police, lawyers, and the rest of the campaign for the sole purpose of keeping Ted’s name on the ballot.

The sympathy that I felt at the beginning of the film disintegrated fairly quickly as the cover-up continued. I wanted Ted to get caught and be punished for his recklessness. Ultimately, there were no consequences.

The voice of reason in “Chappaquiddick” was Ted’s cousin and adopted brother Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), who continuously brought the audience out of the lies engineered by the Kennedy campaign. Up until the very end where Ted makes his speech on live TV presenting a variety of lies about the incident, we see Joe reluctantly holding the cue cards from which his brother reads his message.

“Chappaquiddick” presented a story that not many people in this day-and-age know about. Not only did it tell the story, but it told the story accurately. As someone who is interested in history, I enjoyed learning about something that I hadn’t previously known about. Although slow at the beginning and lacking a lot of live action aside from the car crash, “Chappaquiddick” provides an inside look on the corruption of government in the late 1960s. It’s one of those movies that makes you think–perhaps a characteristic that may be a turn-off for someone looking for a less intellectually-stimulating film.